Thaton Interview: Ma A---, July 2015

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Thaton Interview: Ma A---, July 2015

Published date:
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This Interview with Ma A--- describes events occurring in B--- village, Hpa-an Township, Thaton District in June 2015, including land confiscation, forced relocation, attack on a village and villagers, threatening, looting, arbitrary detention and threats to children’s right to education.

  • The villagers who lived in B--- village, whose ancestors lived there, and who had obtained the land titles to that land from the Karen National Union (KNU), had their village burned and looted by Burma/Myanmar police and officials from the Burma/Myanmar Department of Forest Management between June 22nd and 25th 2015, under the claim that it had been designated a forest reserve.

  • Prior to the raid, on February 1st 2015, U Zaw Min, the chief minister of Kayin State, forced 15 villagers from B--- village to sign a document in which they agreed to demolish their houses and move elsewhere within seven days. This deadline was later revised to June 21st 2015 when the police came to B--- village.

  • Ma A--- reported that on June 2nd 2015, around 50 police officers came into B--- village and arrested 25 villagers, including the interviewee’s husband and father, in addition to her  younger brother, who had already been in jail for two months at that point. None of these villagers have been released at the time of writing. Other villagers have fled to the forest, monastery or their relatives’ houses to avoid being arrested.

  • While the police were demolishing the villagers’ houses, they also looted the village, taking villagers’ valuables and the goods Ma A--- sold in her shop.

  • Following the destruction of the village, approximately 100 villagers, including Ma A---, fled to Myawaddy with the help of Saw P---.

  • There are six school-age children in the group that fled to Myawaddy. Their newly built school in B--- village was also destroyed.

For more information on this incident see: “Forced relocation and destruction of villagers’ shelters by Burma/Myanmar government officials and police in Hpa-an Township, Thaton District, June 2015,” KHRG, August 2015.

Footnotes

[1] KHRG trains community members in southeast Burma/Myanmar to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When conducting interviews, community members are trained to use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important and share their opinions or perspectives on abuse and other local dynamics.

[2] In order to increase the transparency of KHRG methodology and more directly communicate the experiences and perspectives of villagers in southeast Burma/Myanmar, KHRG aims to make all field information received available on the KHRG website once it has been processed and translated, subject only to security considerations. For additional reports categorised by Type, Issue, Location and Year, please see the Related Readings component following each report on KHRG’s website.

[3] Naw is S’gaw Karen title used for women, before their name. In this context, the interviewer is showing respect for the interviewee by referring to her as Naw, ‘older sister’.

[4] D--- village is located on both sides of the main vehicle road from Hpa-an Town in Hpa-an District to Yangon. The village is a Karen village in which villagers mostly do subsistence farming. D--- village is divided into two parts, B--- which is the upper or eastern part, and C---, which is the lower, or western part. The two parts are separated by the vehicle road. B--- is a disputed territory, as it has been designated as a forest reserve by the Burma/Myanmar government despite villagers proclaiming it their inherited land and place of residence, and despite the land not actually containing a forest. For further information, see, “Forced relocation and destruction of villagers’ shelters by Burma/Myanmar government officials and police force in Hpa-an Township, Thaton District, June 2015,” KHRG, August 2015.

[5] On October 15th 1983, the KNU kidnapped a French engineer, Jacques Bossu and his wife, who were working in Myaing Ka Lay Town. The couple were taken by the KNU through Kaw Yin A Htet village tract on their way to Manerplaw, Hpa-an District. The KNU then demanded that the French government cease all aid to Burma/Myanmar if they wish to guarantee their release. Despite their demands not being met, the KNU freed the couple on humanitarian grounds on November 25th 1983. For more details see “Burma: Anti-Government Rebels Free Kidnapped French Couple,” Reuters, November 1983.

[6] The interviewee does not directly answer the question. The villagers whose ancestors lived in B--- are not allowed to live there according to the Burma/Myanmar government, however there are four to five wealthy individuals who have bought land there and were allowed by the Burma/Myanmar government to use it. However, Chief Minister of Kayin State, U Zaw Min claims that since these wealthy individuals overstepped his authority, their use of the land is not legitimate, either.

[7] Myaing Ka Lay Chief of Police U Win Hlaing.

[8] After this interview was conducted, KHRG received further details about the arrests in B--- village. According to subsequent reports, on June 2nd 2015, 23 villagers and one monk were arrested, totalling 24 villagers on that day. In addition, three more villagers were arrested on June 22nd 2015, bringing the total number of B--- villagers arrested to 27.

[9] The police came into B--- village on June 2nd 2015 twice. First, before 9:30 am, to take down villagers’ names. Then, they came back with 50 police officers to arrest the villagers whose names were on the list.

[10] Ma A--- confronted the policemen earlier in the day, before the policewomen came to arrest her at 4 pm.

[11] As Ma A--- recalls earlier in the interview, the initial deadline given to the villagers to demolish all the houses in B--- village was February 8th 2015 (seven days after the meeting with Chief Minister of Kayin State U Zaw Min), however subsequent visits by the police and Burma/Myanmar government officials indicate that the deadline was revised to June 21st 2015.

[12] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the August 4th 2015 official market rate of 1,167.00 kyat to the US $1.

[13] It is common in Burma/Myanmar to use pieces of rubber to start fires. The police and/or people from the Department of Forest Management likely lit the tires on fire and threw them into villagers’ houses, for a quicker demolition by fire.

[14] Ma A--- estimated the number of B--- villagers who fled to Myawaddy at 50, however further investigation by KHRG indicates the number of B--- villagers in Myawaddy is closer to 100.

[15] Kyay zu shin is an expression in Burmese which would literally translate as “a person that is owed gratitude.”